By PETER H. MILLIKEN
ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY years ago this month, John Hunt Morgan, the Confederate general, and his 336 remaining troops surrendered to the Union Army in Columbiana County.
The Confederate cavalry officer’s surrender on July 26, 1863, after a 1,000-mile ride through four states, marked the northernmost advance of Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
Local historical societies in Columbiana County will have special events later this month to observe the sesquicentennial of Morgan’s surrender.
Having left Tennessee on June 11, some 2,200 soldiers and horses participating in Morgan’s raid crossed the Ohio River in two stolen steamboats from Kentucky to Indiana on July 8.
Morgan’s Raiders entered Ohio on July 13, and Ohio’s only Civil War battle occurred July 19 at Buffington Island, where Morgan’s troops clashed with Union forces while Morgan was trying to get his raiders back across the Ohio River into West Virginia. Fewer than 200 of Morgan’s troops were able to cross the river, and an additional 700 of them were captured.
“His reason for the raid was to divert Union troops away from the Tennessee-Kentucky area so the Southern troops in those areas could get away from the Union troops,” said Tom Davidson, president of the Wellsville Historical Society.
As thousands of Union troops pursued them, Morgan’s Raiders seized fresh horses from Ohioans and left behind their tired horses, Davidson said.
“He had to live off the land. He couldn’t bring enough food and horses to keep going through enemy territory,” so he raided Ohio homes for food, horses and valuables, explained Civil War Historian Lester V. Horvitz of Morgan’s Trace, Ohio.
“Morgan did everything he could to tear up railroad tracks and burn railroad depots,” in Ohio, because the railroads were delivering supplies to Union troops in the Southern states, said Horvitz, whose hometown got its name from Morgan’s Raid and whose 1840-vintage house was raided by Morgan.
Morgan’s Raid extended the Civil War for three months because the Union Army was “too busy chasing Morgan to send troops down South to fight,” Horvitz said.
The raid “raised the morale of the Southern people,” Horvitz said. For Confederates, “the only good news was Morgan’s Raid because they were losing the other battles,” notably at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, Horvitz said.
Finding themselves unable to cross the flooded Ohio River, the remnants of Morgan’s Raiders headed north,
creating anxiety among Northeast Ohio residents, wrote industrialist Joseph G. Butler Jr. in his 1921 “History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio.”
“His invasion was nothing more than a reckless diversion,” wrote Butler, who had founded Youngstown’s Butler Institute of American Art in 1919.
“Panic seized the entire state” of Ohio, Butler wrote. “The strength of Morgan’s scattered forces was widely exaggerated,” Butler added.
“It was generally believed that he meant to raid the Mahoning Valley, destroy the iron mills and capture the money in the banks,” wrote Butler, who, during the Civil War, was a young man residing in Niles.
Butler wrote that he joined a band of about 30 men, who loaded a cannon onto a wagon, and headed south to confront the raiders.
Having spent the night in Canfield, Butler recalled he arrived at the surrender site on horseback “just in time to see the capture of the raiders” by Union cavalry two miles west of West Point.
Butler wrote that the money and records of the Youngstown banks had been sent by train to Cleveland as Morgan’s Raiders advanced northward.
Morgan’s Raiders generated fear because they were “a very well-known cavalry unit, probably the best the Confederacy had,” said Tim Seman, genealogy and local history librarian at the main public library in Youngstown.
Morgan’s “getting that far north into Ohio was a bit of a wake-up call, and the response was heightened morale and heightened motivation and the mobilization to defeat the Confederacy,” Seman added.
Although many southern Ohioans were sympathetic to the Confederacy, Morgan’s surrender was inevitable in Northeast Ohio, where he would have encountered formidable resistance in the more-populated, Union-friendly industrial areas, Seman said.
“The abolitionist anti-slavery movement in large part got its birth in northeastern Ohio,” the librarian observed.
“He ended up in this area with a severely-weakened force” after the Battle of Buffington Island, Seman noted.
Most of Morgan’s attempts to recross the Ohio River were stopped by Union Navy vessels, known as Tinclads, which controlled the Ohio River and were able to go farther upriver than usual under flood conditions, Seman said.
After his surrender, Morgan was taken to Wellsville, where he spent the night at the Whitacre House Hotel under heavy guard by Union troops before being taken by train to Cincinnati and then to the newly-opened Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus.
Because he was appreciative of how well he was treated at the hotel,
Morgan presented his battle sword to the hotel owner, Thomas Whitacre.
On Nov. 27, 1863, Morgan and several of his officers tunneled out of the penitentiary and escaped to Kentucky.
Morgan was killed by Union cavalrymen on Sept. 4, 1864, in Greeneville, Tenn.
Morgan’s sword was passed down through generations of the Whitacre family, which donated it to the Wellsville River Museum, where it is now on permanent display, said Robert Lloyd, vice president of the Wellsville Historical Society, which owns the museum.
A roadside monument on state Route 518 between Gavers and West Point marks the surrender site.